Bush's Poodle? the Plight of Tony Blair-And American Democrats. (Dispatches)

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR'S FACE SAYS IT ALL. IT IS etched with ruts and gullies where once there were laughter lines and humane creases. His cheeks have fallen in. The mental, political and emotional traumas of the last six months have left their indelible mark. He is the dedicated multilateral internationalist who has hitched his star to the least multilateral U.S. administration in modern times. He is the pro-European who has triggered the profoundest split in the European Union. He is the third-way progressive whose closest foreign ally despises third-way progressives. He has divided his party and the British liberal left over the lack of legitimacy of war in Iraq, and he shares with George W. Bush all the problems of reconstruction in Iraq but holds negligible leverage. What does Tony Blair know that the rest of us do not?

British interests have been damaged. The United Kingdom shares with the United States all the ambiguities of whether we are liberator or invader in Iraq but none of the overwhelming military preeminence that permits the United States a degree of indifference to Arab protest. Britain can urge that a road map to peace in the Middle East be published, but the power axis lies between Republican Washington and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party. British commercial, financial, cultural and oil interests in both the Arab world and beyond lie in Britain having a distinct European position; instead, it is seen as the 51st state, but without any influence on Washington that being a 51st state would confer. The British capacity to be taken seriously by other members of the European Union as a believer in European integration has been set back, possibly irretrievably. Forget neoconservative stories about new and "old Europe." Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi in Italy (perhaps due to corruption charges) and Jose Maria Aznar in Spain are losing poll approval ratings. There is a European "street," and it is suspicious--like liberal America--of the kind of world order that Bush wants to build. Future Italian and Spanish governments will strike a similar stance to France and Germany. British public opinion is also suspicious, especially on the left. Yet Blair carries on.

Britain has a massive interest in globalization continuing apace. But that globalization has to be legitimate, or countries will throw barriers in its way. Legitimacy demands an acceptance that the adverse processes of globalization--epidemics such as SARS, environmental despoliation, financial instability, trade disputes, terrorism, infringements of human rights--are responded to within a multilateral system of international governance. Yet Blair has made himself the ally of a government and a philosophy that takes the opposite view: Globalization must be on terms sanctioned by neoconservative Washington. But the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization alike, along with a host of other institutions, live by the multilateral philosophy that Bush scorns.

Blair argues that he has achieved more than critics admit. If his alliance with Bush gave the president cover for his war and caused Democrats immediate problems, it now offers Democrats an important lifeline. He has created a "Blair Democrat" position that allows them to argue that they, too, were for removing a despicable dictator and ready to use force, but that like Blair, they want to internationalize the reconstruction and building of democracy in Iraq. Moreover, like Blair, they are idealistic about mankind cooperating to build a better world, but within a framework of international legitimacy.

One of the problems in arguing with neoconservatives is that they have taken the high idealistic ground. They want freedom for Iraqis, democracy in the Middle East, an Islamic enlightenment. They insist that universal human rights are also the prerogative of Muslims, shedding the residual racism that dogs the liberal position with all its (even if well-founded) concern that contemporary Islam is an impossibly hostile climate in which to foster democracy and liberal capitalism. …